Task Force responds to State of the Union address

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force responded to President Obama’s State of the Union speech tonight by reiterating its call for an executive order prohibiting companies that contract with the federal government from discriminating in employment based on sexual orientation and gender identity; passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), federal legislation that would prohibit workplace discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people; and an end to the discriminatory “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA).

In his speech tonight, Obama said, “It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country — the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, what you look like, or who you love.” He also said, “We will ensure equal treatment for all service members, and equal benefits for their families — gay and straight.”

Same-sex couples were among the guests at the State of the Union. Tracey Hepner, co-founder of Military Partners and Families Coalition, sat with First Lady Michelle Obama. She is the wife of the military’s first openly gay or lesbian general, Army Brig. Gen. Tammy Smith. Kelly Costello and her Peruvian wife Fabiola Morales were guests of Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the lead sponsor of the Uniting American Families Act, which is aimed at protecting binational same-sex couples from discrimination. Costello and Morales, who married in Washington, D.C., are fighting to stay together in the U.S.

Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey said:

President Obama spoke pointedly tonight of the need to get our economy moving again, of getting people back to work, and of tackling the economic disparities that are hurting families everywhere. We couldn’t agree more and urge his administration and Congress to work together to ensure that everybody — including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people — have an opportunity to offer their unfettered best to America.

Right now, this simply isn’t possible. LGBT people remain acutely vulnerable in the workplace and on economic issues. Too many of us still head to work each day terrified it may be our last, simply because of who we are or who we love. The stories are painful, and the statistics are startling. But this is the reality for LGBT people all across America. To be open and honest about who we are, about our families, often means taking a huge risk in the workplace. Something as simple as sharing with a co-worker what you and your spouse did over the weekend could place your livelihood in peril.

But we can change this. The president has the power to issue an executive order banning companies that contract with the federal government from discriminating in employment based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This is a direct and immediate action he can take that will help millions of Americans.

President Obama should also exert pressure on Congress to finally pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. To be a strong country, to compete in the global economy, we must have an economy that means that all people are hired, evaluated and promoted on the basis of their work performance, not their personal characteristics. Just as non-LGBT people have tremendous talents, LGBT people are a resource that our nation can no longer afford to squander.

America prides itself on giving everyone a fair shake and allowing them to fully and freely contribute their skills and talents. ENDA reflects these core values. It is why the public overwhelmingly supports job protections for qualified and competent LGBT workers. Many people think these protections already exist, but that’s not the case. There is no clear federal law, and there are no such laws in over half the states. This jeopardizes our ability to have or keep employment, housing and feed our families. ENDA will help level the playing field once and for all.

Finally, our leaders must act to end the unjust federal marriage ban on same-sex couples. The Supreme Court will soon weigh in, but Congress can also do its part by passing the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal the so-called Defense of Marriage Act. DOMA is federally sanctioned discrimination against legally married same-sex couples and our families. It wraps its tentacles around nearly every facet of our lives, affecting our economic well-being, our family security, immigration equality and much more.

For example, just yesterday, the Pentagon announced it was taking an important step forward by extending some benefits to lesbian, gay and bisexual military families. But the full range of benefits still remains out of reach due to the insidious DOMA. Every day, LGBT service members put their lives on the line, yet they and their families continue to be treated as ‘less than.’ DOMA is also used against binational same-sex couples who are forced to choose between family and country. This is unconscionable.

We have often said that President Obama is the most pro-LGBT president in history. His first term was filled with monumental gains for LGBT people and our families, including the passage of a federal hate crimes law, repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and his declaration of support for the freedom to marry for same-sex couples.

But the state of the union for many LGBT people remains one of economic inequality and insecurity. We urge President Obama to use his leadership to help get us over the finish line during his second term.